“What in Dwarfhome…” muttered Marthammor.
“How is this possible?” asked Corellon.
Lathander mopped the sweat from his brow with a tremulous hand. “I don’t know. That’s what frightens me.”
“Why couldn’t we see him?” Marthammor tugged on his beard. “Where did he go?”
“Nowhere,” answered Lathander. “I have searched these many years.” Lathander pulled himself to his feet and went to the balcony overlooking the sea.
“Well, now,” chuckled Marthammor, smoothing his beard, “Lots of people can disappear! There’s nothing so special about that!”
“Yes, but they always reappear somewhere else, don’t they? The boy vanished, Exarch.”
Corellon stood stunned.
“Let me get this straight,” said Marthammor. “You brought us here in secret, at great personal risk, to warn us beware the ‘disappearing urchin’?”
“I do not believe,” said Lathander, turning back and leaning on the balcony, “that the boy enters into it at all. What troubles me is that we can’t know for sure. The boy’s disappearance proves that there is somewhere, and someone, that the gods cannot see. Corellon, Marthammor,” Lathander met their eyes, “a shadow moves unseen in Toril.”
Corellon crossed his arms, considering. Finally, he nodded. “They are wise to fear anything that the gods cannot see.”
“The gods themselves, most of all,” added Lathander.
“Which begs the question,” said Marthammor, “Why hasn’t He of the Unsleeping Eyes seen anything? If he had, he surely would have spoken of it.”
“Helm is a noble guardian, but his watchful eye is not watching for nothing.”
For a long moment, the three gods stood silent in the white-stone grotto, stars wheeling overhead in the deep azure sky.
Marthammor gripped the hilt of his mace, his brow furrowed. “What is it you hope to gain from us, laddie?”
“Your vigilance,” answered the Morninglord. “Your vigilance, and your help in saving the Pantheon from itself.” Lathander winced from an old wound in his side. “They will not understand what needs to be done.”
“Tread carefully,” growled Marthammor. “The bridge-builder is always the first to cross, and you’ve laid shite for founding stones.”
Lathander continued, undeterred. “There is a threat which heaven cannot see. What we cannot see, we cannot fight.”
“Are we under attack, then?”
Corellon nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, master dwarf. I believe we are, or soon will be. Nothing lurks in the shadows that does not desire to snuff out the light. A shadow which moves unseen, a darkness our eyes cannot penetrate — it is an ill omen that can only portend greater evil.”
“Very well,” answered Marthammor, sighing and deftly freeing his mace from the loop on his belt. “I’ll fight evil, but I won’t be party to any coup or plot for vengeance — not against Shar, nor especially Helm or Amaunator.” He hefted the mace’s spiked iron ball and inspected it, looking pleased. “You might want to find yourself another weapon, Lathander; you appear to have misplaced yours.”
“Rest assured, I still have some servants loyal to me — one of them is retrieving Lightbringer as we speak. But no divine weapons will avail us in the coming tribulation.”
“You just said —“
“— that we cannot fight what we cannot see. We cannot, and we must not.”
Corellon looked at Lathander. “You are full of surprises.”
Marthammor balked. “To which revelation are you referring? That he is alive, or that he is mad?”
“Whatever the enemy is planning, we are the target. To escape our sight would require tremendous effort and evil, and it would not be pursued toward any end but our destruction. There will come a time for the gods to take up arms, but I fear it may be too late by the time the enemy finally reveals himself.”
“Well then, why all this cloak-and-dagger?” Marthammor waved an exasperated hand. “Why not warn the Pantheon?”
Corellon stirred. “No, we mustn’t. Lathander is right. We have seen that there is at the very least a credible threat. But to reveal the source of its discovery would cast doubt on the enterprise and bring only ruin should we allow the enemy to remain concealed.”
“You mean, if anyone found out we were conspiring with Lathander.” Marthammor made a face that looked as though he smelled something horrible.
The elf-god continued, thinking aloud. “I am allied with Helm, but he is your sworn enemy,” Corellon indicated Lathander, “and I have the stability of Arvandor to consider. Shar, Helm, and Amaunator are enemies, and they would almost certainly have Ao’s favor if the conflict escalated. Acting openly, and too soon, will spoil any advantage we have gained from advance warning, and may do the enemy’s work by dividing the Pantheon against itself. The Seldarine will require irrefutable proof to risk another Godswar.”
“Yes,” agreed Lathander, “and Mystra, Selûne, and Chauntea will be difficult, even when the time comes.”
“Why is that?” asked the dwarf.
“None of them will want to provoke Shar by aligning with me.”
“Not even Chauntea?”
Lathander’s eyes darkened. “That was a long time ago, Marthammor.”
Corellon nodded to himself, still collating. “What about Moradin, and the other exarchs?” he asked.
Marthammor sighed, “He may be your ally, but he is also attached to Helm and Torm. He shall be the mightiest of friends when the time comes, but not sooner.” The dwarf shuddered. “I do not relish the thought of Moradin’s wrath. It is the same with the other exarchs; we cannot risk a report of our conspiracy reaching Torm.”
Lathander smiled, his brows raised in amusement. “Our conspiracy?”
Marthammor scowled and examined the skilled masonry of a nearby pillar.
“Torm is the master of Celestia,” said Corellon plainly. “We must confide in him as soon as possible without risking our plans. His answer will sway most of the Pantheon, for good or ill.”
“And what plans are those, exactly?” asked Marthammor.
Corellon emerged from his reverie and awaited Lathander.
The Morninglord took a deep breath and resigned himself. “My mantle will pass to mortals.”
The gods stood agape. Corellon’s eyes registered true surprise, and Marthammor’s mouth worked silently.
“Toril will have no help from heaven. The gods shall depend on the strength of mortals in the days to come.”
“Mortals?” Marthammor nearly dropped his cudgel. “There is no assurance with mortals! They are fickle, unreliable — easily tempted, distracted, defeated…”
“That is why we must endeavor to find those among them who are most worthy if we are to entrust our safety to them.”
“Oh, is that all? We’ll just need to find them, eh?” Marthammor chortled, beside himself in disbelief.
“Not just find them,” said Corellon, “We shall have to test them rigorously, prepare them thoroughly—”
“And trust them absolutely.” Lathander let his words sink in.
Corellon inhaled, suddenly remembering to breathe. “We find ourselves beset by unnavigable politics and invisible enemies.” He sighed. “It is only wise to seek help where it may be found.”
“By the clocks of Neverwinter…” Marthammor sat down hard on the stone bench. “So be it.”